Dennis Gertmenian, the Founder, CEO and President of Ready Pac, sought to motivate his team to achieve the highest levels of food safety. To provide some strong motivation, Dennis made a bet with a plant manager that if his plant would score a perfect 100% on a food safety audit, Dennis would come down to the plant and do 100 push-ups.
The associates at the plant worked hard, everything was in good order, the plant received a perfect score… and Dennis proved himself a man of his word.
He also proved himself to be in pretty good shape as the 60-year-old industry icon, briefly gathering his mental and physical strength in a rocking chair, went right to it.
A medical table with oxygen was set up but never had to be used. The 100 push-ups were witnessed and filmed. And associates who somehow always enjoy seeing their CEOs in potentially embarrassing positions got a powerful message regarding how seriously this CEO takes food safety
One of the challenges facing top executives in the produce industry is how do we get our associates to take food safety seriously? It is not a trivial question. As we mentioned in our much e-mailed piece, A Tale Of Two Buyers, one of the most common issues raised with the Pundit is a gap between executive intentions and line implementation on food safety.
It is a difficult gap to bridge because food safety, though essential to financial success in the long term, is typically an expense in the short term. So any incentive programs that revolve around earnings, gross profits or similar metrics typically provide, even if unintentionally, an incentive to skimp on food safety.
There is always the possibility (some would say likelihood) that if the CEO sends out memos saying that food safety is our top priority but pays out bonuses based on profitability, associates will get the message that maximizing profitability is more important than food safety. So using this type of dramatic event to emphasize CEO commitment to food safety is a smart idea.
Dennis is a pioneer in the fresh-cut arena, but in utilizing this technique of motivating associates, he walks in the footsteps of Sam Walton. Under Sam’s tutelage, Wal-Mart had a long history of top executives issuing “challenges” to associates. Back in 1983, Sam doubted a forecast he had been given that the chain would obtain an 8% profit margin. At the time, Wal-Mart consisted of only 642 discount stores (no supercenters yet) located in the South.
Sam told his team that it was not going to happen: “There’s not a chance, but if you achieve those ridiculous figures, I’ll dance a Hula on Wall Street.”
Profits for the year came in at 8.04% and, so, on March 16, 1984, on the sidewalk in front of the Merrill Lynch office on Wall Street, Sam put on a grass skirt and hung a lei around his neck. With the help of some native Hawaiian dancers, he did his version of the Hula before the national media, and TVs were tuned to the event at every Wal-Mart store to allow associates to watch
Of course, we will never know if Sam really thought the 8% number was unobtainable, or if he thought it only obtainable with the proper motivation.
He did mention that a side benefit to stunts was that it made competitors underestimate Wal–Mart. In speaking about doing things such as the Hula down Wall Street, Sam put it this way: “All of this is more important, and more fun, than you think, and it really fools the competition: ‘Why should we take those cornballs at Wal-Mart seriously?’”
Maybe there’s a message for both associates and competitors in Dennis’s push-ups.